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We should act! Will you lead?

I find they have subscribed a very large sum of money in England for exploring the country from the Missisipi to California. They pretend it is only to promote knolege. I am afraid they have thoughts of colonising into that quarter. Some of us have been talking here in a feeble way of making the attempt to search that country. But I doubt whether we have enough of that kind of spirit to raise the money. How would you like to lead such a party?
To George Rogers Clark, December 4, 1783

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders are always recruiting new leaders.
Clark had distinguished himself on the western frontier during the Revolutionary War, securing the Indiana and Illinois Country from the British and their American Indian allies. With the war over, Jefferson proposed another task for him.

The English, still smarting from their defeat east of the Mississippi, had turned their sights west of that river, all the way to the Pacific. They had raised money to explore it. Although they claimed their interest was only scientific, Jefferson thought otherwise. Stripped of their colonies in the east, perhaps they would create new ones in the west.

One way to blunt the English effort would be for the Americans to explore it, too. Those lands were up for grabs. An expedition would make a tentative claim. Would Clark lead that effort?

Clark thought it should be done but declined to lead it. Twenty years later, his youngest brother William would team up with Meriwether Lewis to accomplish the task.

Nothing came of this English effort, though 10 years later, a British party led by Alexander McKenzie did cross the North American landmass through Canada to the Western Sea.

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I shall now remain silent, unless …

you complain of my not writing to you, writing has become so irksome to me that I have withdrawn from all correspondence, and scarcely answer any body’s letter. you are young and it is one of the best exercises for you. I shall hope therefore to hear from you often; but can write to you myself only when I have something to communicate or advise.
To Francis Eppes, January 1, 1819

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
For many years, Jefferson had been a prolific letter writer. If someone wrote to him, he felt an obligation to reply. At age 76, he was tired of writing and responded only when he wanted to. His grandson Francis was troubled by losing his constant correspondent.

Late in life, these were Jefferson’s thoughts on letter-writing:
– It was a great exercise for the young, helping one organize and express thoughts.
– He wanted letters frequently from his grandson.
– He was old and would no longer reply to every letter.
– He would write only when he had news or advice to offer.

Keeping silent unless there was something newsworthy or beneficial to convey … good advice for anyone.

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I don’t want to be de-friended.

You have asked my opinion of these persons, and, to you, I have given it freely. but, remember, that I am old, that I wish not to make new enemies, nor to give offence to those who would consider a difference of opinion as sufficient ground for unfriendly dispositions. God bless you, & make you what I wish you to be.
To Francis Eppes, January 19, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Should old leaders keep their thoughts to themselves?
Eppes was Jefferson’s 20 year old grandson, the only surviving child of his younger daughter Maria, who died in 1804. Jefferson was devoted to the boy and helped direct his education.

Eppes had asked his grandfather’s opinion of political philosophers, Lord Bolingbroke (1678-1751) and Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Both men had significant influence on Jefferson, his contemporaries and the cause for American independence. Both held religious views that tended toward deism or atheism, making them very unpopular in some quarters.

On the whole, Jefferson admired both men and conveyed that sentiment to his grandson. His underlining of the words “to you” meant his views were private and not to be shared. Why?
– He knew many disliked one or both of these men.
– He was old, now 77 and didn’t want to make any “new enemies.”
– Nor did he want to offend any who used “a difference of opinion” as a reason to end a friendship.

Francis Eppes moved from Poplar Forest in western Virginia (given to him by his grandfather years before) to Tallahassee, FL, in 1829 and was a civic leader until his death in 1881. In 1856, he helped endow a seminary that would become the foundation of Florida State University.

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Nation building in one step? Fuggedaboudit!

A full measure of liberty is not now perhaps to be expected by your nation, nor am I confident they are prepared to preserve it. More than a generation will be requisite, under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation. Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still, of the many, the few, or the one.
To Marquis de Lafayette, February 14, 1815

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders build democracy slowly and methodically.
Jefferson and the Frenchman Lafayette had been friends since Revolutionary War days, when the latter became an aide to General Washington. This letter was written when France had finally put its 25-year terror of revolution, Robespierre and Napoleon behind them. Jefferson’s subject in this excerpt was that revolutionary France of the late 1780s (when he was there as ambassador) wasn’t equipped to move directly from monarchy to democracy.

This sentiment is cautionary for “nation builders.” Is it realistic for a country to transition smoothly and in a single step from dictatorship to liberty? As much as Jefferson would like that, he concluded it was probably unrealistic. The citizenry not prepared for liberty would not be able to preserve it if granted.

What was necessary for that dictatorship-to-liberty transition?
1. Time. “More than a generation,” would be required.
2. “Reasonable laws” favoring the progressive education of the people would help them understand liberty and their role in maintaining it.
3. Citizens coming to expect safety for themselves and their property
4. These three will help people esteem the value of their freedom
5. That esteem will bring “the necessity of sacred adherence” to the principles that safeguard that freedom.
6. The result would be a liberty “which takes root and growth in the progress of reason,” i.e. a freedom nurtured over time by education, held upright and fed by roots that have grown deep.

Failing this slow and methodical process, a dictatorship overthrown left its people unprepared for freedom, making them susceptible to yet another tyranny.

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Is God the author of “American exceptionalism”?

Indeed, madam, I know nothing so charming as our own country. The learned say it is a new creation; and I believe them; not for their reasons, but because it is made on an improved plan. Europe is a first idea, a crude production, before the maker knew his trade, or had made up his mind as to what he wanted.
To Angelica Schuyler Church, February 17, 1788

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders are allowed (occasional) flights of fancy!
Mrs. Church was the daughter of an American Revolutionary War General and the wife of a wealthy Englishman who served as an American envoy to France in the 1780s. (Her sister married Alexander Hamilton.) She was one of several well-educated women who became friends with Jefferson during his stay in that country. Church and her family moved to Europe in 1783 and didn’t return to America permanently until 1797.

In this letter, Jefferson encouraged her to visit Monticello when they were both back home. He waxed poetic about the appeal of their native country. Was he completely earnest or tongue-in-cheek when he wrote this? Hard to tell. Maybe both. He had been away from home four years. He missed Mrs. Church’s company since their remove to England. Perhaps he thought it humorous to suggest that God was inexperienced or undecided when he made Europe before perfecting his skill and creating America.

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When is too early to make up your mind?

I thank you also for the extract of the letter you were so kind as to communicate to me on the antiquities found in the Western country. I wish that the persons who go thither would make very exact descriptions of what they see of that kind, without forming any theories. The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the tracts which favor that theory. But it is too early to form theories on those antiquities. We must wait with patience till more facts are collected.
To Charles Thomson, September 20, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The facts will speak for themselves, given enough time.
Thomson was a friend and fellow patriot. He served as Secretary to the Continental Congress for 15 years and was a principal designer of the seal of the United States, still in use today. He and Jefferson were members of the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization. The two men traded letters over matters of interest to the APS. In this letter, that interest dealt with “antiquities” (bones, fossils, artifacts) found in the American west.

By 1787, the middle Ohio River valley (roughly Kentucky and Ohio) was being settled but much of what lay further west was relatively unknown. Jefferson, like any good scientist, wanted to know more, but he wanted lots of evidence before drawing any conclusions. Prematurely-formed theories got in the way, tending to cloud an individual’s judgment. He saw only those facts which supported his theory.

Jefferson’s patient approach had wider application than explaining western antiquities. He often took a wait-and-see attitude. He was capable of bold action when required, but if he had the time, he much preferred gathering more information and seeing where it led, rather than being led somewhere by a preconceived notion.

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Can leaders have too much imagination?

He is a person of ingenuity and information. Unfortunately he has too much imagination. However, if he escapes safely, he will give us new, various, and useful information. I had a letter from him dated last March, when he was about to leave St. Petersburgh on his way to Kamschatka.
To Charles Thomson, September 20, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders must learn to apply the brakes … to themselves!
I thought we were done with John Ledyard in the previous two posts until I found this. Obviously, the explorer was a brave, knowledgeable and enterprising man. Those were valuable skills, and by them, Ledyard increased the body of knowledge available to others. Yet, he lacked skills Jefferson considered essential, patience and a coolness to consider a matter dispassionately. Self-control was a quality he regarded highly.

Jefferson saw a root of self-destruction in Ledyard’s enthusiasm when he wrote, “if he escapes safely.” Ledyard did escape this adventure but died in Africa just 16 months later. He never saw the American west, not even the interior of Africa.

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Around the world, ON foot or BY foot! Pt. 2 of 2

In 1786, while at Paris, I became acquainted with John Ledyard, of Connecticut, a man of genius, of some science, and of fearless courage and enterprise. He had accompanied Captain Cook in his voyage to the Pacific, had distinguished himself on several occasions by an unrivalled intrepidity, and published an account of that voyage …I suggested to him the enterprise of exploring the western part of our continent, by passing through St. Petersburg to Kamschatka, and procuring a passage thence in some of the Russian vessels to Nootka Sound, whence he might make his way across the continent to the United States; … he pursued his course to within two hundred miles of Kamschatka, where he was overtaken by an arrest from the Empress, brought back to Poland, and there dismissed.
Autobiography, 1821 (From Foley’s Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Entry # 4559)

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Only death will stop some leaders!
Ledyard’s plan was to explore the American west by going east from France through Europe and Russia, across the sea to our west coast, and across the North American landmass to the Atlantic. Was this Ledyard’s idea or Jefferson’s? From the previous post, it appeared to be Ledyard’s. From this account 35 years later, Jefferson seemed to be the initiator. I suspect Ledyard already had the adventure in mind, and Jefferson only encouraged him.

This was Jefferson’s second effort to explore the American west, an idea he’d held since boyhood. The first effort in 1783 went nowhere. Ledyard was unsuccessful. Jefferson would fail a third time in 1793. (Another attempt, without his involvement, would fail in 1796.) It would be another decade before Lewis and Clark turned his dream into reality.

Ledyard was nothing if not determined! He made it to within 200 miles of Kamchatka, in the far eastern reaches of Russia, where he was arrested for trespassing. (From that coast, only a few miles of water separated him from what would become Alaska.) Under arrest, he was hauled all the way back west across Russia and released in eastern Europe.

What became of Ledyard?

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Around the world, ON foot or BY foot! Pt. 1 of 2

I had a letter from [world explorer] Lediard [Ledyard] lately dated at St. Petersburg. He had but two shirts, and yet more shirts than shillings. Still he was determined to obtain the palm [triumph] of being the first circum-ambulator of the earth. He sais that having no money they kick him from place to place and thus he expects to be kicked round the globe.
To John Banister, Jr., June 19, 1787

 Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A positive attitude goes a l-o-n-g way!
While researching the post that will come in two days, I found this letter on the same subject, written 34 years earlier. The intrepid Ledyard was in France and became acquainted with Ambassador Jefferson. His plan was to bring Jefferson a report on the American west by going east, across Europe, Russia, and then by ship southeast to America’s west coast, and then east on foot across the continent of North America to the Atlantic Ocean. He was not successful.
When Jefferson wrote this to fellow-explorer Banister, he relayed Ledyard’s most recent communication. Ledyard had a sense of humor! Since he had no money and couldn’t support himself, he would be kicked out of one place to another, and then to another. In that manner, he would complete his adventure all the way around the world.
In Ledyard’s March 19, 1787 letter, the one Jefferson refers to, the explorer described his sartorial scarcity: “I dined to day with Doctr. Pallas Professor of Natural history &c. &c.—an Accomplished Sweed: my friend: has been all thro European and asiatic Russia … But I dined in a shirt that I had worn four days. I have but two: and I suppose when I write you next I shall have none.”

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Clouds can be SUCH a nuisance!

We were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse, which proved to be cloudy. In Williamsburgh, where it was total, I understand only the beginning was seen. At this place which is in Lat. 38 degrees-8′ and Longitude West from Williamsburgh about 1 degrees-45′ as is conjectured, eleven digits only were supposed to be covered, as it was not seen at all till the moon had advanced nearly one third over the sun’s disc. Afterwards it was seen at intervals through the whole.
To David Rittenhouse, July 19, 1778

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Astronomers (and others) love eclipses!
Have you heard that August 21, 2017, will bring a total solar eclipse across the United States? Where I live in central Missouri is in the band where the moon will completely block the sun for about 2.5 minutes. North Americans (and others) outside this band will see partial eclipses. That is, they will see them if it’s not cloudy. (It will be darkened regardless, but only observable if the sky is clear.)

June 24, 1778, brought a total eclipse across southern Virginia. Amateur astronomer Jefferson expressed his disappointment to professional astronomer Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. Clouds obscured most of the partial eclipse from Monticello and most of the total eclipse in Virginia’s capital of Williamsburg, some 120 miles to the southeast. (In 1803, Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis to Rittenhouse, for tutoring in astronomical observations prior to his 1804 journey west with William Clark.)

April 8, 2024 will bring the next total eclipse across North America, in a band from Texas through Vermont.

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